Zoe Cooper’s new play is one of gentle waves. Claire (Lucy Briggs-Owen) has moved from London to South Shields with her police officer wife Kit (Zoe West) and taken a job at a struggling local school. There she encounters and offers support to a water-loving, non-binary student called Fish (Tilda Wickham), who’s living in the care system. What she hasn’t told her students, or her employers for that matter, is that she’s pregnant.
Out of Water is a tender and nuanced piece of writing. Cooper explores the difficulty of relocating to another part of the country with a partner and living visibly as a queer woman. The play evokes the natural beauty of the North East, as well as the damage inflicted by austerity.
Designer Camilla Clark has covered the Orange Tree floor with authentically weathered parquet – it looks distressingly like a school gymnasium – and replaced the front row of seats with blue plastic chairs. It’s a set with a secret, which feels entirely in keeping with the themes of the play.
Guy Jones’ production meanders slightly, especially in the first half, but builds to a satisfying finish. The performances are amiable and warm. West is particularly endearing as the easy-going Kit. Her hurt at realising that she’s not been listed as Claire’s emergency contact is palpable.
Like Cooper’s last play Jess and Joe Forever, a heartwarming coming-of-age tale set in the fens, the play addresses issues of gender in a matter-of-fact way, as part of the fabric of the story being told. Societal change, much like self-acceptance, takes time, but it comes in the end, like the tide.